Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day 2005: Focus on Zambia and southern Africa

The 18th Annual World AIDS Day activities to raise awareness and action in the fight against HIV/AIDS around the world are in full swing today. According to the latest news and statistics on this global war against a devastating disease there is very little to be happy about. We are losing this war and we are losing badly. The theme of World AIDS Day 2005 is “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” and when I think about how many “promises” the world community has not kept or broken over the past few years alone one could just throw in the towel and raise the white flag on stopping AIDS in poorer countries.

I was a bit more upbeat when I posted on the World AIDS Day 2004 because I naively thought that we were making some progress last year in the fight against AIDS. The only significant progress this year outside of some medical advances and "promises of financial aid" is that the disease is steadily progressing on the African and Asian continents. China, India, and Russia are bracing for an explosion in new HIV/AIDS infections and deaths in 2006. Here are some sobering numbers for the year 2005 from Reuters AlertNet on HIV/AIDS in Africa and Asia.

CNNI (CNN International) aired a special yesterday by veteran award-winning documentary filmmaker Sorious Samura titled “Living with AIDS”. This powerful video documentary will be airing worldwide on CNN Presents again today and through the weekend to Sunday, December 4th. Check your local TV listings to see when it airs in your neighborhood or visit the CNN Presents website. If you are interested in learning more about the AIDS epidemic in southern Africa don’t miss this important documentary. People in the U.K. may remember the June 27, 2005 airing of Living with AIDS on Channel 4 or may have read the review in the Guardian Observer on June 19th.

I must say that I am a very big fan of Sorious Samura and the Insight News TV production team and try to watch every documentary they produce ever since seeing Samura’s Cry Freetown years ago. Living with AIDS is the third in a special series preceded by Living with Hunger and Living with Refugees. The video was shot in Zambia and in his characteristic style Sorious Samura immerses himself and the audience into the story as he works as an orderly in a rural Zambian hospital treating gravely ill AIDS and tuberculosis patients.

Owukori of the Black Looks blog 1st broke this story in the Blogosphere back in June 2005 but was unable to view the U.K. premiere so I hope that she can view it out down in Spain this weekend. Owukori writes about many of the issues on sexuality and sexual abuse in Africa that Samura raises in this documentary so check her blog for in-depth viewpoints.

As with some of the earlier works by the Sierra Leone native Sorious Samura I came away from Living with AIDS so deeply upset, furious, angry, and frustrated that I could have leaped right through the screen of my TV set to grab the perpetrators of violence and other unspeakable crimes against innocent people by the neck and choke the living crap out of them. I always come away better informed about the issues confronting the people characterized in Samura’s excellent documentaries about Africa, that is, after I cool down.

Case in Point:

In Living with AIDS there are interviews with some young (and some older) Zambian men who are either HIV+ and/or suffering from AIDS and tuberculosis. One scene in particular that burns into my memory is of a young boy (calling him a young man would be an insult to any real men) who brags about his being infected with AIDS and yet he refuses to practice safe sex by wearing a condom. There are other scenes where young and middle-aged men boast of their (perceived) sexual prowess by having multiple sexual partners (mostly young girls) and complain vehemently to Sorious Samura that they like to have “The Real Thing” and “Flesh-to-Flesh” when they are having sex and therefore don't use (free) condoms. Who do these guys think they are? Coca-Cola? This is not only irresponsible and dangerous sexual behavior it is murder. And don’t come to me with that age-old African traditions and cultural taboos BS because I don’t buy it. People are dying like flies from AIDS down in Africa and in the face of certain death you will drop all taboos to stay alive.

To make matters worse there was yet another interview with very young sex workers (prostitutes) who shyly admitted to the filmmaker that they sometimes have unprotected sex with their customers because they earn more (about 50 cents more). These young girls were aware of the dangers of unprotected sex in rural Zambia, had access to free condoms and counseling, and had lost friends and family members to AIDS and related diseases. Yet they were willing to put their lives and their customer's lives on the line for a few extra coins. That is not a result of the pressures of severe poverty, that is just plain stupidity!

The last straw for me came toward the end when a “traveling blind preacher” was giving one of his open-air fire-and-brimstone sermons to a group of orphans (all children, about 100 of them) that had been placed under his watchful care and guidance. As the reverend was preaching to these poor, uneducated, helpless little children about the Bible and Jesus (that part was O.K.) through his Zambian sidekick (a translator, the preacher didn’t speak the local language) he decided he would cover the subject of the dangers of HIV/AIDS and sex with a phrase that went something like this:

“I don’t believe in condoms, I believe in Jesus, and that is all you need.”

This is the point when I lost all control and went ballistic, (feeling like) pulling out my .45 caliber Smith & Wesson and filling that hoodlum priest (the preacher) and his baboon friend full of lead, hoping that I wouldn’t hit any of those poor kids in the process. God forgive me.

Just about everybody I describe above appearing in this riveting documentary needs to be locked up by the Zambian police ASAP and then throw away the key. Then they should find the orphans a new home Pronto. No more blind preachers giving out sex education and HIV/AIDS counseling to minors in Zambia or anywhere else in southern Africa. And somebody needs to talk about AIDS in Africa with the new German Pope Benedict too, bring him up to speed on reality.

So for a more in-depth and cool-headed review of Sorious Samura’s new documentary on the AIDS epidemic in Zambia, please follow the links below:

CNN Presents: Living with AIDS
November 30th – December 4th, 2005

Insight News TV: Living with AIDS

Guardian Observer (U.K.): Africa’s fatal sexual culture spreads AIDS

Moving right along:

I’ll write more about World AIDS Day 2005 tomorrow. I need to calm down right now after reflecting on some of the scenes in the documentary “Living with AIDS”.



Imnakoya said...

The world disparity on HIV infection and AIDS-related death is widening by the day; 2005 has not been a very good year for the fight against AIDS, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

The trends of HIV infection and AIDS in Africa bring both sweet and sour taste to my mouth. While Uganda has been able to cut rate of the HIV/AIDS to single digit, many countries are faltering in mounting vigorous interventions against this disease,...I’m afraid we may witness a sustained spike in rates for sometime.

Black River Eagle said...

I'm afraid you are right Imnakoya about the sustained increase in HIV/AIDS infections and AIDS-related deaths in Africa over the next decade. It is a truly frightening set of dark scenarios for everyone if it keeps up at this pace. I fear total collapse and loss of whole societies in not only some African countries but in entire regions of the continent, but perhaps I'm just being paranoid or something.

BTW, I slept on the idea of flying down to Zambia and shooting that travelling preacher in Samura's documentary and have decided that it is not a good idea. Looks bad in front of the kids and I don't want to frighten those poor children anymore than the blind preacher has done already.

I'll have to figure out another way to take care of those two characters if I ever get my hands on 'em down in Zambia. Outrageous!